Another Spice Chest Build #1: Past Mistakes

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Blog entry by JustJoe posted 10-29-2012 10:55 AM 1756 reads 0 times favorited 2 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Another Spice Chest Build series Part 2: First Week's Progress - The easy stuff is done. »

I’m going to make another spice chest. I don’t really like to duplicate projects – there are already too many things I want to make and not enough time to make them all – but this one has been nagging me for the last 6 years (since I built the new workshop) so it’s time to revisit it.

Many years ago I made a fancy spice chest for my mom. Instead of the traditional walnut I used cherry because that’s the only wood I could find at the time. I was very new to woodworking (I think it was only the third item I’d made to give as a gift) so what I lacked in knowledge, skills, experience I made up for with enthusiasm, wood filler and a lot of cherry stain.

A few winters after I delivered it to her there was a problem with the thermostat. Mom and Dad went away for the weekend and came home to an almost empty boiler and a house that was heated up to around 115 degrees. It turns out that neither enthusiasm, wood filler or a gallon of cherry stain are strong enough to withstand the forces created when wood cooks to 115 degrees and dries out to around 1% moisture content.

So back to me it came. It sat in a box in the shed for many years, but now I’m going to rebuild it bigger and better than before. I probably can’t put together a spice chest capable of being heated to a 115 degrees without imploding, but there are a lot of little things that I’ll be doing differently:

1. No cross-grain dovetails. I don’t know why I put the original sub-top on sideways but when that board shrunk every single tail popped off. If I can’t find a board long enough this time, I’ll glue something up.

2. No stain. I used cherry stain on cherry because I was inexperienced. I thought all wood needed stain, and that since the wood was cherry I needed the stuff that said cherry on the can. This time it will be something that lets the grain pop, darkens the walnut, but leaves it natural.

3. No fake trim. I built this monstrosity before I had 50 molding planes and a tub full of router bits. It only takes about 2 months before cherry-stained poplar molding looks less like cherry and more like poplar. And an upside-down chunk of baseboard will always look like an upside-down chunk of baseboard. This time I’m making a real cornice molding if it kills me.

4. Better drawers. For one thing they’ll be square. You can’t tell in this picture but that bottom drawer leans a good 3 degrees to the right. I have no clue as to how I ever got it to fit in the first place. And box-joints on a classic spice chest? What was I thinking?

5. And the last thing is that I will be planning, measuring, remeasuring and then doing a final measurement before I make any cuts. I spent a fortune on good brass knobs for the 11 drawers on this thing and on half of them I had to drill a fat hole so I could inset them 1/4” into the drawer front because when I was lining up the internal framework I didn’t think about how much space I needed behind the door. Whoops.

So that’s where I was, now I’m moving on. For the next one, I’m sure there will still be a few small mistakes but hopefully they’ll be small enough that they just add character. I’ve already started pulling together boards and designing cornice molding and a new base. And I’ve researched different types of finishes for walnut (that’s what brought me to LumberJocks in the first place). Hopefully this time next week I can post progress pics of spice chest #2.

thanks for reading

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2 comments so far

View NormG's profile


6202 posts in 3056 days

#1 posted 10-29-2012 10:08 PM

Well, we all have our projects that we wished had come out better than they did, but we move on after learning from past experiences and things improve with time.

Thanks for sharing your prior experience

-- Norman - I never never make a mistake, I just change the design.

View sras's profile


4822 posts in 3182 days

#2 posted 10-30-2012 02:45 AM

That is a well thought out list. Good luck on the build!

-- Steve - Impatience is Expensive

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